TERRE HAUTE —
Three words that undoubtedly describe the feelings of teachers and administrators at Sarah Scott Middle School in Terre Haute as they try to navigate the public humiliation heaped on them by the Indiana Department of Education’s “F” grade for 2013 in category placement.
Sarah Scott’s are not the first educators to encounter the state’s harsh judgment, and they probably won’t be the last. It goes with the territory in this day and age on Indiana’s landscape of public education.
The grades given to every school in the state are based primarily on student performance on the ISTEP-Plus test, or the percentage of students passing the test. Schools’ scores can also be raised or lowered based on student academic improvement on the test from year to year.
It’s all about accountability, which is a good thing. Schools have an opportunity to raise low scores on their own without direct state action. But if they fail to improve and get an “F” a second year, they might risk, at some point in the future, being taken over by the state.
The school grading system isn’t a perfect mechanism and continues to be fraught with controversy. State officials keep trying to develop a fair and meaningful system for holding schools and school districts accountable to the taxpayers who fund them, but when politics mixes with education, results can be both good and bad. That certainly adds to the stress the system creates on educators.
In Sarah Scott’s case, the majority of students come from low-income backgrounds, and there is a high number of special-needs students — a combination that poses significant challenges to educators. And while ISTEP scores may be adequate, if growth and improvement lag, the overall school grade suffers. Such was the case at Sarah Scott.
The school district has already started its work to address Sarah Scott’s deficiencies. It conducted a public hearing on its improvement plan earlier this week. The plan demonstrates the district is taking aggressive steps to make things better.
The Vigo County School Corp. has faced such challenges before. Last year, West Vigo Elementary School worked its way through similar problems and improved an “F” grade to an “A,” a remarkable feat. Local educators will certainly apply lessons learned in that case to Sarah Scott as well.
Terre Haute’s schools and the neighborhoods that feed into them have great pride. We’re confident that a good plan is in place and that continued failure will not be an option.